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Ab Exercises for Women

The ‘Wheel’ Deal on Ab Wheels

It may not be easy, but it sure is effective — learn how to get the most out of an ab wheel, then dig into these two beginner and intermediate workouts.

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There’s a saying that “nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” It’s usually uttered as a warning about staying out too late — but even if you’re at home, chillin’ on your couch, bad things can happen, too.

For instance, you could get caught up in an infomercial selling you flat, toned abs: Just fork out three “easy” payments and you’ll be on your way to a beach-ready six-pack!

Bleary-eyed and hopeful, millions of people have jumped on the phone over the years, reading off 10 digits from their credit cards. From Ab Rollers to Ab Scissors to the AbFlex to the Ab Coaster (to name just a few), these machines arrived, gathered dust and then most likely made their way to the curb on a future trash day.

Many shady inventions were nothing more than rip-offs. However, some arguably had some real value once you rolled past the hucksterisms and got real. One such implement? The ab wheel — essentially a simple wheel with a handle coming out of each side. Not only is it effective, but it’s also cheap! You can get a good one for $20 or less on Amazon (like this one or this one as an example of two highly rated options).

Ab Wheel 101

For those ready to take this former late-night star for a spin, we tabbed Aimee Nicotera, MS, health coach and virtual fitness studio owner, for her advice. She answers five common questions and lays out a multi-move wheel workout that hits the abs from all angles.

1. Doing exercises with an ab wheel is tough! What is it that makes this motion so challenging?

Nicotera: Using an ab wheel correctly requires the ability to maintain stability through the entire core — including the muscles around the cervical spine, those deep within the transverse abdominis, diaphragm and multifidus, and down below the hip girdle to the pelvic floor. Basically, your core is everything from your shoulders to your hips. Many people struggle to maintain stability in the shoulder girdle, spine and hips with their hands on the floor, such as during a high plank. Add a moving wheel, creating an unstable base, and the difficulty increases significantly!

2. If you’re a beginner who struggles with even doing one “rep” on a wheel, how do you recommend someone build up endurance to be able to do full sets? 

Nicotera: Before even attempting the ab-wheel exercise, you should be able to hold both a forearm plank and a high plank with your legs fully extended for at least 45 to 60 seconds. In addition, strengthening your back muscles is important — specifically the erector spinae group, responsible for spinal extension, lateral flexion and supporting upright posture. A great exercise for this would be a traditional Bird Dog [described below], which involves simultaneously lifting and extending the opposite arm and leg in a quadruped position.

After mastering the stationary plank, you can start with just one rep of the ab wheel. This first attempt should be started from a position with [your] knees on the floor, moving through just a small range of motion as a goal. As your strength and confidence increase, you can also increase the range of motion, and the start position can change to a plank with your knees up in the air or even from a standing position.

3. Are there areas of the abdominals that an ab wheel hits especially well? And are there areas it doesn’t engage as well? 

Nicotera: Muscle activity when using an ab wheel is high in the core, most notably the rectus abdominis muscles. The intensity placed on the abdominals changes based on the angle of the arms in relation to the trunk when using the ab wheel. Meanwhile, the ab muscles responsible for trunk rotation — namely the internal and external obliques — aren’t challenged as much due to the limited opportunity for rotation when using the wheel.

4. What are your top tips for doing the ab wheel correctly?  

Nicotera: First, you need to maintain a neutral spine — this means there is no excessive flexion or extension of the spine, and the spine remains long from the beginning to the end of the movement. You also want your shoulder girdle and hips to remain stable and your arms to remain straight throughout the exercise. I tell clients to picture a steel rod running from the crown of their head through their spine and hips, holding everything in alignment. Bracing your core as you do the roll is also important. Imagine someone is about to punch you in the stomach, so you engage your abs as if you’re ready to take that punch. I would also encourage people to inhale as they roll out and then exhale as they roll the wheel back in.

5. And what are biggest mistakes people make with one?

Nicotera: Typical mistakes include letting the shoulder blades cave in toward one another and allowing the midback or low back to sag. Bending the arms reduces the effectiveness of the exercise, as well. It’s also important to avoid letting your hips lift up higher than your shoulders.

Your Beginner Ab-Wheel Workout

This quick and effective core workout, which incorporates exercises with and without an ab wheel, can be performed on its own or tacked onto the end of another bodypart workout once or twice a week.

Exercise Sets Reps
Forearm Plank 6 20-second hold + 10-second rest
Bird Dog 3 10 reps
High Plank 3 30-second hold + 30-second rest
Static Knee Plank With Ab Wheel 4 20-second hold + 10-second rest
Knee Plank Ab-Wheel Roll 3 5 reps

Forearm Plank

Assume a plank position with your elbows directly under your shoulders and your legs fully extended. Press your forearms into the floor, pull your navel up and in, and maintain a neutral spine, holding this position for 20 seconds. Be mindful of allowing your breath to flow in and out. (Note: If this is too hard, you can do the alternate version in which you bend your knees so they are on the floor, supporting your body.)

Bird Dog

In a quadruped position, extend and lift your opposite arm and leg. Hold the extended position for five seconds, then switch to lift the other arm and leg from the floor. Maintain a long spine throughout, and be mindful of keeping your neck neutral with your eyes focused on the floor looking slightly ahead.

High Plank

Assume the start of a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders, elbows straight. Spread your fingers wide, place your feet about hip-width apart, and look down between your hands as you maintain that position for 30 seconds.

Static Knee Plank With Ab Wheel

Hold a knee plank with your hands securely holding the handles of an ab wheel. Imagine there is a steel rod connecting your head, hips and knees. With your hands under your shoulders, elbows straight, wrists neutral and shoulders away from your ears, hold this position for 20 seconds. Avoid letting your shoulder blades creep toward each other by pushing into the wheel firmly. 

Knee Plank Ab-Wheel Roll

Hold a knee plank with your hands securely holding the ab wheel, positioning it in line with your shoulders. Keeping your arms straight, wrists neutral and shoulders down and away from your ears, slowly roll the wheel out and forward 1 to 5 inches. Next, roll the wheel back in to the start position. Be sure to start small, and gradually increase the range of motion as your tolerance and strength increases.

Your Intermediate Ab-Wheel Workout

Once you master the beginner sesh and are wheeling like a pro, kick the intensity up a notch with this next-level workout by Nicotera.

Exercise Sets Reps
Knee Plank Straight Roll 2-3 10
Knee Plank Diagonal Roll 2-3 5 reps (each side)
Full Plank Roll 2-3 5-10
Standing Straddle Roll 2-3 5-10
Plank to Pike 2-3 5-10

Knee Plank Straight Roll

Hold a knee plank with your hands securely holding the ab wheel, positioning it in line with your shoulders. Keeping your arms straight, wrists neutral and shoulders down and away from your ears, roll the wheel straight forward as far as possible while maintaining a strong and steady trunk. Then roll the wheel back in to the start position. 

Knee Plank Diagonal Roll

Start in the same position as described above. Instead of rolling straight out, you’ll alternate rolling the wheel slightly to the right and then to the left. Be sure to maintain the same length in the spine and a straight-arm position throughout.

Full Plank Roll

Assume a high-plank position (i.e., the start of a push-up) with both hands on the ab wheel and the wheel positioned in line with your shoulders. Maintaining a straight line from your head through your hips and down to your ankles, roll the wheel forward as far as possible. Pause at the end of the motion, then return to the start position. Be sure to “push down” into the wheel during the exercise.

Standing Straddle Roll

Stand in a wide straddle, hinge forward from your hips and grip the ab wheel. Maintaining straight arms throughout the movement as well as an engaged, braced core, roll the wheel forward until it’s in line with your shoulders and your body is straight. Then return to the start position with control. 

Plank to Pike

Assume a high-plank position with your hands on the ab wheel, which in turn is positioned in line with your shoulders. Maintaining a straight line from your head through your spine and hips all the way to your ankles, lift your hips high and roll the wheel, creating a pike position. (Your body is shaped like an upside-down V.) Pause for a one-count at the top, then return to the starting plank position. Be sure to keep your arms straight and core braced throughout the movement.